Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Inventing A Complete System Of Lighting
IN Berlin, on December 11, 1908, with notable eclat, the seventieth birthday was
celebrated of Emil Rathenau, the founder of the great Allgemein Elektricitaets
Gesellschaft. This distinguished German, creator of a splendid industry, then received the
congratulations of his fellow-countrymen, headed by Emperor William, who spoke
enthusiastically of his services to electro-technics and to Germany. In his interesting
acknowledgment, Mr. Rathenau told how he went to Paris in 1881, and at the electrical
exhibition there saw the display of Edison's inventions in electric lighting "which have
met with as little proper appreciation as his countless innovations in connection with
telegraphy, telephony, and the entire electrical industry." He saw the Edison dynamo, and
he saw the incandescent lamp, "of which millions have been manufactured since that day
without the great master being paid the tribute to his invention." But what impressed the
observant, thoroughgoing German was the breadth with which the whole lighting art had
been elaborated and perfected, even at that early day. "The Edison system of lighting was
as beautifully conceived down to the very details, and as thoroughly worked out as if it
had been tested for decades in various towns. Neither sockets, switches, fuses, lamp-
holders, nor any of the other accessories necessary to complete the installation were
wanting; and the generating of the current, the regulation, the wiring with distributing
boxes, house connections, meters, etc., all showed signs of astonishing skill and
incomparable genius."
Such praise on such an occasion from the man who introduced incandescent electric
lighting into Germany is significant as to the continued appreciation abroad of Mr.
Edison's work. If there is one thing modern Germany is proud and jealous of, it is her
leadership in electrical engineering and investigation. But with characteristic insight, Mr.
Rathenau here placed his finger on the great merit that has often been forgotten. Edison
was not simply the inventor of a new lamp and a new dynamo. They were invaluable
elements, but far from all that was necessary. His was the mighty achievement of
conceiving and executing in all its details an art and an industry absolutely new to the
world. Within two years this man completed and made that art available in its essential,
fundamental facts, which remain unchanged after thirty years of rapid improvement and
widening application.
Such a stupendous feat, whose equal is far to seek anywhere in the history of invention, is
worth studying, especially as the task will take us over much new ground and over very
little of the territory already covered. Notwithstanding the enormous amount of thought
and labor expended on the incandescent lamp problem from the autumn of 1878 to the
winter of 1879, it must not be supposed for one moment that Edison's whole endeavor
and entire inventive skill had been given to the lamp alone, or the dynamo alone. We
have sat through the long watches of the night while Edison brooded on the real solution
of the swarming problems. We have gazed anxiously at the steady fingers of the deft and
cautious Batchelor, as one fragile filament after another refused to stay intact until it
could be sealed into its crystal prison and there glow with light that never was before on
land or sea. We have calculated armatures and field coils for the new dynamo with
Upton, and held the stakes for Jehl and his fellows at their winding bees. We have seen